Measure to carry a penalty of life in prison
Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin joined Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-District 15, Cranston) and Senator Hanna Gallo (D — District 27, Cranston, West Warwick0 in announcing legislation (H7715/ S2279) that specifies drug-induced homicide as murder, carrying a maximum penalty of up to life in prison. If enacted, the act would be named Kristen's Law, in honor of Kristen Coutu who was murdered after taking a deadly dose of fentanyl in 2014.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 20 states have drug-induced homicide statutes in some capacity.
Currently, under Rhode Island General Laws § 11-23-6, any person convicted of the sale, delivery or distribution of a controlled substance, the sale of which would constitute a felony under chapter 28 of title 21, to a minor, or of knowingly providing a controlled substance for sale, delivery or distribution to a minor and death has resulted to the minor because of the ingestion orally, by injection, or by inhalation of the controlled substance, shall be imprisoned for life.
The legislation would expand the drug-induced homicide to include all persons, regardless of age.
"As the opioid crisis continues, we are seeing increasingly more lethal synthetic drugs hit the streets because they are cheaper and easier to manufacture and distribute. And make no mistake about it, drug traffickers are fully aware they are selling synthetic drugs that are 100 times more powerful than prescription counterparts and can likely lead to death," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Overdose deaths should always be looked at through a law enforcement prism as distributors of these deadly drugs know exactly what they are selling while the person who suffers from a substance use disorder may not be aware of what he or she is taking."
"The opioid epidemic is devastating to so many families in Rhode Island and the death of Kristen Coutu of Cranston is yet another horrific example. Anyone who is preying on individuals with an addiction, regardless of age, should be held responsible. This is not a crime restricted to the sale of drugs to a minor," added Speaker Mattiello.
Sen. Hanna M. Gallo said, "Rhode Islanders across all walks of life are feeling the impacts of the opioid crisis. I have personally known too many Rhode Islanders who have been devastated during this crisis, including Kristen, who was a friend of my daughter. We need to send a strong, clear message to drug dealers that people are dying as a result of their actions. They need to know that we will hold them criminally responsible for those deaths."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that most of the increase in fentanyl deaths do not involve prescription fentanyl, but rather are related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl and counterfeit opioid pills that are mixed with highly lethal analogs and then sold intentionally without the user's knowledge of its lethality.
In April 2017, Aaron Andrade pleaded to one count of second degree murder for selling fentanyl that caused the fatal overdose to 29-year old Kristen Coutu, of Cranston, RI. Under the terms of the plea, Andrade was sentenced to 40 years with 20 years to serve and the remainder suspended with probation.